The suits, which seek compensatory and punitive damages under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) and the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA) charge Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín with extrajudicial killings and crimes against humanity for their roles in the massacre of unarmed civilians, including children. In September and October 2003, Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín ordered Bolivian security forces to use deadly force, including the use of high-powered rifles and machine guns, to suppress popular civilian protests against government policies.
In all, during those two months forces under their leadership killed 67 men, women, and children and injured more than 400, almost all from indigenous Aymara communities.
Each of the ten plaintiffs, who are Aymara natives of Bolivia, are survivors of individuals who were killed by forces under Sánchez de Lozada's and Sánchez Berzaín's command. The ten plaintiffs include among them: Eloy Rojas Mamani and Etelvina Ramos Mamani, whose 8-year-old daughter was killed in her mother's bedroom when a single shot was fired through the window; Teofilo Baltazar Cerro, whose pregnant wife was killed after a bullet was fired through the wall of a house, killing her and her unborn child; Felicidad Rosa Huanca Quispe, whose 69-year-old father was shot and killed along a roadside; and Gonzalo Mamani Aguilar, whose father was shot and killed.
"We would prefer to see Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín sent back to Bolivia to stand trial, but if that does not happen, the U.S. courts are the best alternative. We hope that the judiciary in the United States will give a fair trial for the victims and defendants. We are asking for justice," said Plaintiff Juan Patricio Quispe Mamani.
On October 17, 2003, both Sánchez de Lozada and Sánchez Berzaín fled to the United States. Sánchez de Lozada now lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland; Sánchez Berzaín now resides in Miami, Florida. Two separate cases were filed - one in U.S. federal court in the District of Maryland against Sánchez de Lozada and the other in the Southern District of Florida against Sánchez Berzaín - with the same plaintiffs and charges of human rights violations in each.
"Human rights violators such as the defendants can no longer assume that they will have a safe haven in the United States; instead, our courts will hold them accountable for violations of universally recognized human rights," added Center for Constitutional Rights Cooperating Attorney Judith Chomsky, who has been involved in the long-line of ATS cases initiated by CCR in the U.S., starting with the seminal ruling Filartiga v. Pena Irala in 1980.
"We are committed to seeing justice done for each of the plaintiffs, and to forcing the Defendants to confront the consequences of their disastrous leadership during this period," said Steven Schulman, a partner at the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.
The legal team includes Paul Hoffman of Schonbrun, DeSimone, Seplow, Harris and Hoffman; CCR Senior Attorney Jennie Green and CCR cooperating attorneys Judith Chomsky and David Rudovsky; Steven Schulman, John Van Sickle and Jeremy Bollinger from the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP; James Cavallaro and Tyler Giannini from the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School; and Miami attorneys Ira Kurzban and Geoffrey Hoffman.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.